It's a tale as old at time as the San Francisco 49ers are set to host the Green Bay Packers in Week 3, the fifth matchup between the two clubs in the past five seasons. Following a lackluster start to the season, Green Bay found steam in the second half of their Week 2 outing and look continue their momentum into Sunday. Meanwhile, a battered and bruised 49ers team aims to continue it's perfect start to open the season in the primetime home opener.
Packers.com reporter Wes Hodkiewicz joins this week's Four Downs to discuss several pressing topics heading into "Sunday Night Football," including matchups to keep an eye out for and the biggest question marks heading into the game.
1st Down: Biggest Takeaway from Week 2
@KeianaMartinTV: Defense Might Be the Story, But Don't Overlook 49ers O-Line
Giving credit where credit is due, but San Franciso's new-look offensive line has exceeded expectations so far in pass protection through the first two weeks of the season. Pro Football Focus noted the unit has allowed just seven quarterback pressures over two games, the lowest mark in the NFL. Jimmy Garoppolo left Sunday's contest virtually unscathed due to the protection up front while allowing the quarterback a career-high 9.1 yards per attempt.
They'll have an opportunity to put up a repeat performance in Week 3 against a Packers team that allowed Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff the second-longest time to throw in his career according to Next Gen Stats, which could bode well for Deebo Samuel, George Kittle and Co. It's worth noting, the Packers defense is without Pro Bowl edge rusher Za'Darius Smith, who was placed on Injured Reserve with a lingering back injury.
Green Bay's defense allowed seven passing scores through the first two games of the season and struggled to generate a pass rush, notching their first sack of the game midway into the fourth quarter. While the unit is still working out the kinks in the run game (more on that later), an encore outing could be the boost the offense needs to get off to a quick start early.
@WesHod: The Packers Offense is Still Explosive
While Green Bay got off to a slow start against New Orleans, it bounced back nicely in Monday night's home opener against the Detroit Lions. After carrying the ball just 15 times for 43 yards against the Saints, the Packers committed to the run against the Lions and it set the foundation for the rest of the offense. With Detroit playing its safeties back, Green Bay did a better job of making the Lions pay underneath. Aaron Jones went off for 115 total yards and four touchdowns (his three receiving scores were the most in a game by a Packers running back in 79 years). This is a much-bigger test Sunday night against a talented and veteran San Francisco defense but the No. 1 scoring offense from a year ago got some of its swagger back with that 35-point outing against Detroit. It'll be interesting to see if the Packers can keep that train moving against one of the league's top defensive units.
2nd Down: Biggest Question Mark Heading into Week 3
@KeianaMartinTV: Running Back
Who would have thought the deepest position on the 49ers roster heading into the season would quickly become alarmingly thin just three weeks into the 2021 campaign? After losing Raheem Mostert for the season in Week 1, the 49ers were without Elijah Mitchell (shoulder), Trey Sermon (concussion) and JaMycal Hasty (ankle) by the mid-point of the fourth quarter in Week 2 with newcomer Trenton Cannon as the lone healthy back on the roster. Hasty has already been ruled OUT for Sunday and Kyle Shanahan is "holding out hope" for Mitchell, who has been declared doubtful.
The 49ers might have to look to practice squad members Kerryon Johnson, Jacques Patrick and Chris Thompson this week to relieve their woes at running back. Sermon was a full participant on Friday, which could point to added relief to the 49ers backfield. Shanahan alluded to having to alter his gameplan with the number of new faces stepping in. San Francisco's backfield will need to get caught up to speed quickly after posting a mere 3.1 yards per attempt in Week 2 against the Eagles.
@WesHod: Left Tackle
The Packers already are playing without five-time All-Pro David Bakhtiari, who's still recovering from the torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered in a New Year's Eve practice. Fortunately for Green Bay, All-Pro left guard Elgton Jenkins might be the most versatile offensive lineman in all of football and has looked phenomenal in Bakhtiari's stead this season. The bad news for the Packers is Jenkins has yet to practice this week after injuring his ankle against Detroit on Monday night. If Jenkins can't go, the Packers likely would have to plug in either veteran Dennis Kelly or 25-year-old prospect Yosh Nijman. The Packers like both guys but that would be a tough assignment going against an elite pass-rusher like Nick Bosa.
3rd Down: Matchup You're Looking Forward to Most
@KeianaMartinTV: 49ers Cornerbacks vs. Davante Adams
Rodgers and Adams are a dynamic duo and it's held true coming off of their Week 2 outing against the Lions. The duo connected on 8-of-9 targets for 121 yards en route to the victory. The last time the two faced off against the 49ers, Adams went off for 173 yards and a touchdown on 10 receptions.
While the running back situation is something to monitor, the same goes for San Francisco's cornerbacks. Emmanuel Moseley has yet to take the field in 2021 and has been listed as questionable heading into the contest. If he is unable to go, the 49ers will look to the same lineup in Week 2 with Deommodore Lenoir and Josh Norman manning Green Bay's wideouts. The duo managed to limit Philly to 177 net passing yards on the day. But much credit goes to San Fransisco's pass rush. If the 49ers have any plans to relieve their defensive backs on Sunday, constant pressure is the only way to limit the Rodgers to Adams connection.
@WesHod: Alex Mack vs. Kenny Clark
It would be easy to say Matt LaFleur vs. Kyle Shanahan, DeMeco Ryans' game plan vs. Davante Adams, or Adrian Amos vs. George Kittle, but the key matchup I feel nobody is talking about is Alex Mack and Kenny Clark. Those two Pro Bowlers had some battles during Mack's time in Atlanta. While he's now 35, Mack hasn't shown any signs of slowing down in my estimation. The Packers need to stop the run and get off the field on third down. Clark is essential to both. When Clark got going in the second half against the Lions, the rest of the defense went with him. Green Bay needs a fast start from its defense and its young defensive tackle.
4th Down: Player You Will Be Keeping a Close Eye On
@KeianaMartinTV: Nick Bosa
I'm kind of cheating here, but what's more enticing to watch than Bosa continue on his strong start while returning from a lost 2020 season. In just two games this season, Bosa has already notched 1/3 of the sack count he amassed during his Defensive Rookie of the Year campaign in 2019. Left tackle Trent Williams has already acknowledged how much stronger and faster he looks coming off of that season-ending ACL injury a year ago, and so far, Bosa looks the part live as well. In Week 2, the edge rusher recorded 2.0 sacks, two quarterback hits, three tackles, including one for loss against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Bosa has been good for at least one sack in both of his career matchups against Rodgers in 2019 (Week 12 and NFC Championship game). However, he'll be lining up across from a different face this time around with Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari on PUP. Wes previously discussed the question marks surrounding Green Bay's left tackle position. Per PFF, Bosa's 16.3 percent pressure rate when lined up outside the left tackle since 2019 ranks second among qualifying players. Regardless who steps in to protect Rodgers' blind side, it will be a marquee matchup to watch on Sunday night.
@WesHod: Jaire Alexander
Deebo Samuel is such an explosive athlete who can break open a game at any time. You can tell he's going to be an integral part of the 49ers offense this year, especially with how banged up San Francisco is in the backfield right now. The 49ers do a great job of creating misdirection with whoever is in the backfield and a player like Samuel can really hurt a defense if the defenders' eyes are too fixated on what's going on behind the line of scrimmage. Jaire Alexander tends to play on one side of the field but Samuel is the type of playmaker who could cause him to move around. I'm curious how Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry deploys Alexander on Sunday night.